CASERTA, Italy — Research and innovation are essential to combat apparel counterfeiters, experts said during an international symposium on protecting intellectual property in the fashion industry.
The two-day convention that ended here Dec. 1 was organized by Italy's Ministry of Productive Activities, the World Intellectual Property Organization and Italy's Institute for Industrial Promotion. It drew officials from many developing countries.
"[Fashion] companies sometimes feel alone and unprotected, especially abroad," said Vittorio Donati, director of the intellectual property department at Ermenegildo Zegna Holditalia. "Therefore, it's important to know that there are contacts to be made and that synergies between the industry and the institutions can be created."
Donati said Zegna files about 100 legal actions against counterfeiters every year.
"Ties are the most copied items, as they are the simplest to counterfeit," he said.
Claudio Scajola, Italy's minister of productive activities, said protecting intellectual property should be an integral part of a company's expansion strategy as well as a defensive tool.
"Even in traditional sectors, such as textile and ready-to-wear, there are tremendous technological developments and innovation," Scajola said. "As our cost of labor is not competitive, our products must be technological and unique to maintain our leadership even in more traditional industries."
The Italian government is working on simpler and speedier legislation for the protection of intellectual property, setting up an anticounterfeiting commission, collaborating with other countries on IP matters and investing in marketing to educate the public about counterfeits, Scajola said. New legislation allows the government to fine consumers who are caught buying counterfeit goods.
"Prevention is the only cure," said Guriqbal Singh Jaiya, director of the small and medium-sized enterprises division at Geneva-based WIPO. "In today's economy, the focus is on knowledge, useful information that is intangible and information as property, but also public good," said Jaiya, noting how more than 80 percent of Microsoft's market value derives from intangible assets: "What is a brand? The intangible but real value of words, graphics or symbols that are associated with the products or services offered by a business."
Zegna's Donati noted that the company has registered the family's name and label around the world in characters different from the Latin ones, respecting the phonetics as much as possible, to further protect the brand.Stefano Artuso, head of Benetton Group's legal department, said the company has registered about 5,000 brands. During his presentation, Artuso showed slides of the more bizarre counterfeits the company had seized, including "United Colors of the T-shirt" T-shirts and "United Colors of Bay Club" backpacks.
"We have even registered the green rectangle as a brand, as this is also regularly copied," said Artuso.
Donati said Zegna invests in protection depending on its expansion plans and where counterfeiting is more dangerous.
"In particular, what really upsets us is a well-made counterfeit that ends up in large distribution channels," he said.
Massimiliano Caforio, a lawyer from the legal department of Gianni Versace SpA, said Versace is still battling with a franchisee in Dubai, where the legislation is making it difficult to sever ties with a former partner and take back control over the brand.
Jinyan Cao, deputy director general at China's intellectual property development research center of the state intellectual property office, said the Chinese are beginning to recognize the need for protection.
"It's a complicated situation," Cao said. "We need to start a dialogue with companies that have experience in this. [The] Chinese invest little in innovation. It's easier to make low-level products, but the advantage of low labor cost is starting to dwindle."
Accordingly, last August the country organized an expo in Shanghai addressing the issue and wrote up a declaration on intellectual property abiding by international regulations.
"Many companies in China don't know how to protect intellectual property," Cao said. "Fashion has a very short life cycle, we must all register very quickly."
Many convention participants expressed pleasure at the event's timing and content. Neda Matijevic, Croatia's minister of economy, said she planned to organize a series of similar seminars on the subject.
"My government is starting to support the textile industry and we are working on a national intellectual property strategy this year," she said.
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